The United Workers Union is calling on the NSW Government to convene an immediate crisis meeting with unions, employer representatives and Safework NSW, to address the growing COVID-19 crisis in workplaces.
The union wrote to the State Government last week with a series of proposals to prevent the increase in transmission taking place in distribution centres across Sydney. The Government is yet to respond.
Further horror stories of contact tracing failures have since emerged, with workers at exposure sights being told by NSW Health that they have no knowledge of them being a close contact.
United Workers Union National Secretary Tim Kennedy said as the representative body for more than 150,000 workers across Australia the union can make an important contribution to help manage the ongoing pandemic.
“It has become clear in Sydney that numbers are staying stubbornly high because people are going to work while infectious, which fundamentally makes this an issue of workplace safety,” Kennedy said.
“In previous instances of high community spread, unions have worked with Government authorities to help curb transmission. Workers in organised workplaces have played a key role in limiting the spread of the virus.
“If we are truly in this together, then the NSW Government needs to listen to the concerns and take advice from those who are currently most impacted. We have OHS structures at many workplaces across NSW that can be activated in a state-wide strategy to protect people from the current Delta variant.
“We know vaccination is the way out of the pandemic but there are some more immediate measures that can be implemented to help control the spread, such as onsite testing at critical workplaces, an onsite strategy for the vaccination rollout and mandating paid pandemic leave so workers are not choosing between going to work or feeding their family.”
Since the Union rang the alarm about COVID-19 transmission in distribution centres last week, workers from various sites have come forward about their concerns around contact tracing.
United Workers Union is aware of at least seven other sites around NSW where workers have been exposed to confirmed cases and have either not been contacted by NSW Health, or have been given contradictory instruction to that of their employer.
On Monday a worker at a PFD Food Services distribution centre in Chullora attended a shift who later found out they were infectious. PFD were told at 10:00am on Tuesday but the company did not tell the close contacts until 2:00pm at the end of their shift.
Those workers have now been instructed by the company to get tested and self isolate using their annual leave to cover any missed rostered shifts. However, the afternoon shift workers have been told that they are not close contacts and they being told to continue to attend work. The union believes there was a potential cross over with afternoon shiftworkers of around 30 minutes.
As of 4:00pm 4 August, 2021 no workers from the site had been contacted by NSW Health.